Mother’s Day is the most celebrated holiday according to Hallmark sales. But for those of us with difficult moms, we feel an added stress: a mother wound.
I was often afraid of my mom. I frequently cried because of the painful words she would sling at me. At night, I would pull up my blankets and stay very quiet, until she’d stop yelling at me. When she finally went to sleep, I’d pull out my flashlight and read. I read until all the words that cut into me would fade, and I’d fall asleep, pouring my heart out to Jesus, asking him to change how things were between us.
As I grew up into an adult and became a mom myself, I struggled to acknowledge that my difficult mom relationship didn’t change. I could never meet her expectations well enough, even though I tried to the best of my ability and the detriment of my sanity, and prayed about it my whole life. It’s an unspoken taboo to talk about it. But some of us have difficult moms. It’s a reality that we find hard to share, but it’s true. Especially in our Christian culture, we don’t want others to misjudge us as unloving or unforgiving daughters. We are afraid people won’t understand that even if we know Jesus loves us, we can feel despairing and unloved, relating to a difficult mom. So, we keep quiet.
But God knows our hurts and he understands the complexities of human relationships, especially when they are broken. It is important to know we are not alone. Many of us struggle with moms who struggle with their brokenness. There is hope for those of us with difficult moms. As children adopted into a new, spiritual family, with God as our loving Heavenly Father, we can find guidance in our difficult mom relationships. We can also receive the nurture we long for, even if we have a difficult mom.
Here are 7 ways to find healing when you have a toxic mother:
1. You don’t have to be ashamed.
“But now… listen to the Lord who created you… the one who formed you says, "Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are mine.” - Isaiah 43:1
We carry a tremendous amount of shame and guilt and think, if only we did x, y or z, our mothers would no longer be angry, sad or troubled. We can feel lost. But, God created us and loves us intimately. We belong to God. He calls us his, unconditionally.
Our mothers also belong to God. We are not responsible to fix our mother’s faults and brokenness. God is responsible for our mothers, not us.
2. You need to grieve your losses.
“Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close.” - Psalm 27:10
There comes a time we need to accept to the reality of our difficult mom and grieve the death of our expectations and dreams for our ideal mom, so we can grow into daughters of a loving Father. With God’s comfort and our friends, we let go of the mom we wish we had, to gain wisdom and courage to relate to the real mom we do have.
As we allow God to re-parent us with what we need, we find faith and courage to trust God to meet our needs through him and other loving people.
3. You can experience freedom with the truth.
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” - John 8:33
It’s important to God that we trust him with the truth, even if it hurts. We experience an intimate rest with God when are vulnerable and give him burdens we were never meant to carry.
We can begin to make different choices that are healthy for ourselves, our spouses and children, and break hurtful, old patterns. We stop becoming enablers for our difficult moms, so they can face the truth with God, too.
4. Redefine motherhood. Receive mothering from your spiritual family.
When the crowds told Jesus his mother and brothers were standing outside, waiting to see him, Jesus shockingly answered, "Who are my mother and my brothers? My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it." Mark 3:33, Luke 8:21.
Jesus redefined family as God’s spiritual family. God gives us earthly families, but ultimately, we are adopted by God as his child, into a new family of believers, fueled by love and grace, instead of dysfunctional family rules and expectations.
Seek out friendships and invest in new relationships with other women of faith who can give you the encouragement, to be who God created you to be, who are gracious, kind and good listeners.
5. Your forgiveness does not automatically mean reconciliation.
"Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." - Matthew 6:12
Forgiving someone's debt means taking the offense off the "this person owes me an apology" list. It means we cross it off as "paid in full". Instead of waiting for the offending person to love us back, stop hurting us, give us acceptance or belonging, we look to Jesus to restore what was lost to us.
But, forgiveness does not mean trust is freely granted or automatically restored. Forgiveness does not mean you don't have boundaries if their actions are unhealthy or cause you emotional, spiritual, physical harm. Forgiveness takes just one. But, reconciliation takes two. Reconciliation is possible when the person who hurts us wants to make amends and repair the trust that was broken. But, sometimes, reconciliation may not be possible. For a season. Or longer.
We can keep forgiving our mothers, even if reconciliation may not be possible until other changes are made. We put our faith and trust in God’s work and timetable instead of our own.
6. You need to establish boundaries.
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” - Romans 12:18
A relationship is two-way. As powerful as he is, God will not force everyone into a loving relationship. God never intends for us to live another person’s life or allow anyone else to control us.
Honoring our parents does not mean open borders to toxicity, fear or intimidation to manipulate into being fashioned in someone else's image.
7. Have hope, open up and share. There is a season for everything.
“There is a time for everything and a season… a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up..” - Ecclesiastes 3:3
As I took these steps of faith with my own difficult mother, I began to open up and share my journey. As I did, I began to connect with others, grow and heal.
God’s word tells us in Ecclesiastes, there are different seasons of our lives. We have hope. Not because life is perfect, but God’s love for us is perfect. Although these may not all apply to you, offer grace and understanding to support others walking through different seasons in their relationship with mom. What the world needs isn’t a pain-free version of our story. What the world needs is a compassionate, open heart that makes space to share real stories.
Jesus knew this. That is why Jesus lived and even resurrected with a broken body and a broken story of pain, suffering, and betrayal. So that you and I can become God’s place of rest. So that we can become daughters of a loving Heavenly Father who calls us his.
Bonnie Gray is the author of Finding Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening Your Soul To Rest, a featured contributor at (in)courage and her writing is nationally syndicated, spotlighted by Relevant Magazine, Catalyst Leadership, Today's Christian Woman, and Christianity Today. Bonnie serves up shots of faith for the daily grind on her blog Faith Barista.com.